Monday, February 28, 2011

This Unassuming Drawing

by Stephen Cummings

Go see this drawing by Roberto Cuoghi.

How often do you come across a really good drawing? I mean a really good drawing. Something that grabs hold of you and won't let go. For me it's not that often. I think of Leonardo's portrait of The Virgin and Saint Anne, or Seurat's portrait of his mother. Maybe some of those spare, celebrated arrangements by Schiele? Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of great drawings out there, but some take it to another level. Fortunately you can see what I'm talking about, provided you get yourself over to the Hammer to have a look at one small piece by Italian artist Roberto Cuoghi.

It's a self portrait, like every piece in this particular body of work (unless that Pazuzu sculpture can be said to be included), and untitled like the rest of them as well. What makes it stand out is its solidity, its straightforwardness, and the absolutely exquisite handling of the materials.

Looking out from the page is the head of a heavyset man, with no pretense to anything else. And I should go further and say, a drawing of the head of a heavyset man, with no pretense to anything else. Lines unravel toward the edges of this paper like those of the old masters. This thing does not seek to be a window onto a world; it's a drawing. Marks bold and delicate make up the concentrated but serene figure. It's a confident draftsman who can allow the tiniest lower eyelashes to coexist on the page with a flattened haze of hair and fat lines around a fat neck. Moving across the face a near sculptural right eye composed of clear, concise marks gives way to the soft, sfumato whisper of the left side of the head, a rich, receding space cut out by the bold, dark lines that define the form's left edge. Because the crudeness of these lines brings us firmly to the surface of the paper, it's as if the face is sunk into the space beyond. Elsewhere can be found a stubble made not of stippled pigment, but of depressions poked into the page, possibly with the staples mentioned in the list of media. These same holes form pores in other areas, and in still others mere stippled value. In an otherwise graphite palette, the ear and cheek on the right side betray subtle hints of color, and the whole fleshy guise sits atop a collar pushed forward by its whiteness, whiteness achieved with help of that white-out tape you can find at office suppliers as well as some coarse scraping away of the paper. This drawing, in short, is a tour de force.

There are artists who take great pains to insist that virtuosic draftsmanship is superior to other forms of art. Their work is boastful and self-conscious and stale. And Cuoghi, with this matter-of-fact, fat beauty, displays a level of virtuosity that they can only dream of.

No comments:

Post a Comment